AXA SA is stepping up its investment in artificial intelligence and data analytics in Hong Kong to improve health outcomes and lower medical costs, latching on to the city’s proximity to many technological advancements in mainland China.
The insurer expects to spend HK$220 million on technology, such as AI and big data applications by the end of this year, a 10 per cent increase from 2018, according to Ashok Krishnan, chief data officer and head of customer experience at the local unit of the Paris-based insurance group. Hong Kong makes an interesting platform for health insurers to put their tools to work, he said.
“The uniqueness of Hong Kong is that it is a large market [concentrated in a] small geographic area, which makes it easier to pilot something,” Krishnan said in an interview. High-level of smartphone and social media usage, as well as access to new technologies being developed in China, make Hong Kong a “a very interesting” test-bed for new AI and data analytics tools, he added.
That appeal has not been diminished as Hong Kong continued to post headline revenue growth in Asia and Hong Kong, according to its latest nine-month results, amid anti-government street protests and an economic slump. Health revenues contributed 1.6 billion euros, or more than a fifth of AXA business in Asia, on the back of higher volumes and positive price effects mainly from Hong Kong.
Earlier this month, AXA hosted its first health-related “hackathon” in the city to scour for new ideas and talents to help the firm in its digital and data strategy push to future-proof its business. It underlines AXA’s strategy to move from being a traditional “payer of claims” to a proactive “health partner” to its customers, with the aim of improving their health outcomes and medical bills.
“Traditional insurance is, if something happens to you, we pay for the medical treatment,” Krishnan said. “The new way is, how do we prevent you from falling ill in the first place. If you lead a healthy life, it also benefits us.”
About 100 participants from 10 nations, comprising mostly students and start-up entrepreneurs in the medical, data science, software and business fields, formed 19 teams to brainstorm ideas and prototypes in the 48-hour hackathon.
The winning team produced a mock-up “pill Pal” mobile app for patients with chronic medical conditions, such as diabetes and hypertension, to upload their pills-taking videos to a depository accessible by their doctors. A chat function is also available in the app, enabling doctors and fellow patients to give advice or moral support.
Facial and object recognition technology would be embedded in the mobile app to help ensure data authenticity, which aims to monitor and raise patients’ adherence to medical instructions. The Pill Pal app aims to track timeliness and accuracy of medication taking, and enable patients to share their experiences on side effects.
“About half of patients with chronic illnesses do not adhere to medication instructions, often due to a lack of motivation, forgetfulness and worries about side effects,” according to Cynthia Lam Sin-nga, a member of the winning team comprising mostly senior medical students. Hospitalisation caused by such situations is estimated to have cost US insurers some US$290 billion a year, she noted. Mining and analysing data in the pill Pay app could help insurers devise incentive schemes to reward positive behaviours and reduce medical costs, she added.
AXA has already launched insurance products that offer premium rebates to customers who successfully quit smoking, or completed a year-long health management programme if they suffer from diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol or obesity, Krishnan said. Rivals are also tapping into the value of health data. AIA Group offers premium discount to Hong Kong customers who go through its health screening and healthy living programmes. It also hosted a hackathon last year to generate health-related digital innovation ideas.
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